TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are running on empty. They're running low on running backs.
Having lost Doug Martin in Week 2 to a hamstring injury and backup Charles Sims two games later to a knee injury, coach Dirk Koetter made a nice discovery by signing former Atlanta Falcons running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who had been cut by the Chicago Bears.
As a starter, Rodgers rushed for 101 yards and 154 yards in wins over Carolina and San Francisco. But on Sunday, he suffered an ankle sprain and will not play Thursday night when the Buccaneers host the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium.
Tampa Bay signed running back Mike James off the Detroit Lions practice squad. James has had several stints with the Bucs and was in training camp with them this year. But this will be their seventh running back on the active roster this season, which means the Bucs may have to rely more heavily on quarterback Jameis Winston.
However, Koetter would still like to stay balanced on offense.
"I think every team has its own personality and you're trying to find what that personality is and then I say it all the time, play to your strengths and disguise your weaknesses and we had two pretty good weeks in a row playing to that running game,'' Koetter said. "It's not going to be like that every single game. Oakland made a commitment to take away our run -- every time we out 'Gos' [tackle Gosder Cherilus] in, they put an extra D-lineman in, that's the first time we've seen that this year, that was a good move by them, so we had to adjust from there.
"I don't know, that's all just talk. We were talking about this yesterday, you're trying to figure out the best way to give your team a chance to win every week, alright? If it's run it every down, if it's throw it every down, whatever it is, that's what we're trying to do and I don't mind. We came up short."
The Buccaneers have won three straight games against the Falcons, including the season opener in Atlanta. But the Falcons are a much better football team than they were back in early September.
"I don't think they're a lot different, scheme-wise,'' Koetter said. "I think they're playing with more confidence and you would expect that, they won some big games. I think (linebacker Vic) Beasley has really come into his own as a pass rusher, on defense. They're still rolling a lot of guys in there. They're starting three rookies on defense. You can definitely see the improved speed on their defense with the two inside linebackers and (Keanu) Neal, at safety and now that's helped their depth because they have (linebacker Paul) Worrilow in a backup role and Kemal Ishmael -- who I think is a pretty good safety -- in a backup role.
"Their offense has always been good. It looks like they've finally settled on who their second and third receivers are, they've kind of found their role. They've really developed the two running back system. The one second guy (Tevin Coleman) might be out -- he was out last week -- but what an explosive player that he's turned into, much more so than last year, and (Devonta) Freeman's been good the whole time."
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is having one of the best years of his career with a league-high 19 touchdown passes as he leads the most productive offense in the NFL. He will enjoy watching tape of the Bucs' loss to the Oakland Raiders Sunday.
Tampa Bay's defense could not get pressure on quarterback Derek Carr, who passed for a club-record 513 yards and four touchdowns.
"Totally unacceptable, no doubt about it,'' said Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith. "Some of them are missed leverage and missed tackles, there were some that were short throws that we did not tackle well, there were some that we had miscommunication where we had the wrong guy hung on the receiver when he shouldn't have been there. So, there's a myriad of things that we have got to get better at. And I don't think we should try to blame it on one player, one group. We work in tandem.
"This was a team I think that we played last week that only gave up five sacks, we sacked them twice -- of course we were out there for 93 plays, we almost played two games. But we've got to get better, I've got to do a better job ultimately. It's not the players, it's me as the coach.
"We've got to make sure that we have an understanding of what we're trying to get done. And it was across the board in all three levels. ... I don't think you should ever be judged by one game. Last week we're talking about holding somebody to 100-and-whatever yards passing, we turn around and we lay an egg. Unfortunately, we didn't play fourth down very well. I'll ask you guys this question: Would you take 17 points against that offense with a minute and 43 seconds to go? Absolutely, but that's the way this game is every single week.''
The Bucs are at a critical point in their season at 3-4. If they can get a win Thursday, they would pull to within a half-game of the Falcons in the NFC South with two wins over their rivals.